It's been Dwight Central around here for the past week since the free agent center decided to lace up his sneakers for the Rockets this season. Howard is in town -- buying people lunch, apparently -- to sign his contract with the team and will no doubt begin offseason workouts with the team.
As fun as this whirlwind has been, there are still questions that must be answered before this Rockets team hits the hardwood in November. Simply throwing an All Star onto a team with bright young talent isn't always the answer. The Lakers -- and pretty much everyone else -- thought they had a serious contender for the Miami Heat last year until the wheels came off approximately ten games into the season.
So before we start building more trophy cases, we need to figure out how to deal with a few other issues the Rockets have.
What do they do with Omer Asik?
The Rockets had one of the league's best centers last year. Now, with the acquisition of the best center in the NBA, there is bound to be conflict. Rumors have circulated that Asik is not happy with Howard's signing. He should not be. If he wants to be a starter in this league -- something he has earned -- he won't be able to do it here. But, if the Rockets move him, they will need to be careful and not make a deal just to make it. Asik could have real value to a team that needs a center, but do they have any players the Rockets want and are they willing to part with them?
Also, keeping Asik as both a backup plan for Howard and as a defensive stopper wouldn't be the worst idea if Asik is willing to accept the reduced role. And don't start thinking Twin Towers because in a league that is rapidly going to power forwards who can stretch defenses, neither Howard nor Asik has the speed to keep up with those types of players. Whatever happens, figuring it out is the next top priority for the Rockets.
Who is starting at power forward?
For all the joy over the Howard signing and for all the power forwards the Rockets have drafted the past few years (they had eight on the roster at one point last year), who will be the Rockets' starting four has yet to be determined. For now, they have second-year players Terrence Jones and Dontas Montejunas. Jones strung together a few solid games last year and his athleticism is intriguing, but he looked confused too often on defense. Montejunas has been the odds-on favorite since he was brought over from Europe, but after a few good games last year, he struggled mightily.
With Asik to dangle, it would seem reasonable to think the Rockets would look for a veteran power forward to pair with Howard and try to keep a younger player on the roster to develop. Morey has said that the Howard signing means they will abandon their search for young talent and begin to fill the roster with veterans to complement their core. We'll see if one of them can play the four.
Is Jeremy Lin truly your point guard of the future?
So far, the Rockets have given no significant indication he is not, but the strong showing of Patrick Beverley last year should certainly give them pause. Lin can still be a valuable contributor if he can develop consistency. For a stretch last season, he was fantastic. He's only been in the league a couple years and he's clearly not going to re-create Linsanity for more than a couple games at a time, but if he is the guy, the Rockets will need him to show it this season.
Lin still struggles with his shot at times and he is often a defensive liability, but he should make a formidable pick-and-roll partner with Howard, particularly when he slashes to the basket. In this era of great point guards, the Rockets will need one to emerge, if not as a star, at least as a solid starter. If Lin isn't that guy, they need to figure it out quick.
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